The eugenics problem:
A few days ago, as I write this, I was in Vancouver presenting the poster that was posted on March 18.  Across the way from me was a poster Down Syndrome: Discrimination, Coercion and Eugenics by L. McCabe and E. McCabe.  Their issue was discrimination against Down’s syndrome.  I was interested and would happily have spoken with the authors, but I missed them.  I did notice that they defined “eugenics” as any attempt by government or large organizations to limit people’s reproductive choices.

Of course I was sympathetic.  I knew, and still know, little about eugenics, but I had until recently thought that this was a policy for improving the genetic composition of humans.  To say I was already hostile to the notion is an understatement.  I don’t even feel happy when the powers tamper with the language.  The change of the name Down’s syndrome to Down syndrome is a case in point.  I applaud the change from “Mongolian idiocy” to “Mongolism.”  I have a good friend who has Down’s syndrome who is quite bright and capable.  I can accept the change from “Mongolism” to “Down’s syndrome” out of deference to the feelings of real Mongols.  In medical school they told us about a pediatric resident who was a real Mongol and who presented an excellent workup of a case, concluding that this was a clear case of “Caucasian idiocy.”  Point taken.  But the recent change – which is part of a larger pattern – accomplishes nothing.  I don’t like it. 

So if tampering with a word brings a snarl of defiance from me, you can be quite sure that tampering with the human gene pool is something toward which I have always been hostile. 

I make one exception.  Many years ago it was a legal requirement to have a blood test before getting married.  In Florida the marriage license required a three day waiting period.  In Georgia there was no wait.  Enamored couples would drive to Georgia to get married.  In those romantic days three days was an eternity.  At the Georgia line there were bill boards advertising “Blood Tests.” 

The reason for this is that a couple with the wrong combination of blood types will probably have one healthy child and the rest will be terribly ill, usually with brain damage or death as the result before modern treatments became available.  That is pretty much in the past.  The bulwark against the disease was once the blood test.  More recently it has been injecting the mother with an antibody that clears her system of fetal cells that do not match her own so that she does not develop an active immunity that will attack the next fetus.  For many years the injection was done after the baby was born, but it was not foolproof.  Now the injection is done during the pregnancy.  So the antibody goes into the mother’s vein, thence to heart, lungs, heart uterine artery, placenta and fetal vein.  There it meets fetal blood, and if the fetus is Rh positive it breaks up red blood cells releasing hemoglobin which travels to the fetal liver, where very little is detoxified, and then to the fetal heart.  From there it goes into the fetal arterial circulation with three major destinations: the placenta, the fetal brain and the rest of the fetus.  When it gets to brain, which is immature and lacks a blood brain barrier, it fries brain.  Yep, every time.

How much brain?  I don’t know.  The fetus has powers of recovery and I have no idea how you would be sure you hadn’t knocked off three or four IQ points’ worth of brain. 

The way to avoid it altogether of course is to make sure blood types match.  If mother and father have the same Rh status there will never be a problem such as I describe.

So would telling people that matching their blood types before marrying would be a jolly nice thing to do – would that be eugenics?  I don’t think so.  I would call it prudence.

Anyway I have never been in favor of eugenics.  But eugenics did not stop there.  It also taught that mixing races was a bad idea.  Well I don’t know what “race” means, and I doubt those who use the word have a good idea.   For instance common usage would assign Europeans to one or more races and Asians to one or more other races.  It would also assign the Kalahari Bushmen to one race.  Yet it has been found that two bands of Bushmen who live within walking distance of each other – they walk a long way, but not that much longer than anybody else – are as distinct genetically as Europeans and Asians.  So whatever “race” means it does not mean some sort of genetic group.  It is a term with only a social meaning.  At all events eugenics condemned crossing those lines. 

There was also a prohibition against marrying cousins. 

Well the liberals got busy and managed to persuade people that improving the species genetically was a bad idea (hooray for shutting that one down) and mixing up races was a good idea (no reaction … irrelevant) but when they came to marrying cousins they decided to keep that prejudice. 

Where did the prejudice come from?  It first appeared as a policy of the Catholic Church.  With the reformation the prejudice vanished, but then somehow it came seeping up again through the floorboards.  And it is still with us, even now with eugenics supposedly reviled and discredited, that part of eugenics is still embraced.  Of course it is utterly vital that we let it go. 

About a year ago I was planning to go to a genetics meeting in Boston.  I had hopes of making contacts that would permit me to do an experiment I was and still am interested in.  I had bought tickets, made plans and reserved my hotel room.  Then I got this letter.  (I will put it in red so you don’t think it’s me talking.)

From: Marts, Sherry <>
To: mlherbert …
Sent: Wed, May 12, 2010 1:51 pm
Subject: Registration cancelled, refund will be sent
Dear Dr. Herbert,

I am writing to inform you that we are refunding your registration fee and cancelling your hotel reservation for the conference Genetics 2010: Model Organisms to Human Biology.

You will not be provided with credentials to attend the conference and will not be admitted to any of the conference sessions or events.

We will mail you a check in the amount of your registration fee within the next week.

The conference organizers and I are basing our decision on the materials found on your web site (  in support of a research on eugenics. Since its founding in 1931, the Genetics Society of America has maintained a policy of strong ethical opposition to eugenics and research supporting any aspect of eugenics.

We ask that you respect this as the final decision of the conference organizers and the Genetics Society of America.

Sherry Marts
Executive Director

So here I stand accused of teaching eugenics when I am toiling against it.  I wrote thee letters of protest saying that nothing of the sort was true and got no further reply.  Nor did they reimburse me for the airline ticket or help me with the hotel room.  (The hotel told me they did not in fact have the right to put me out of my room.  I did pay for a day’s lodging, and I believe they did refund it via the credit card.)  In taking this unaccountable position the society in fact was supporting eugenics in defiance of their own stated policy.

Well that’s prejudice for you.  If they had a problem with my site, of course I would have addressed the problem.  But they made no specific reference and I have no idea what, if anything, they were talking about. 

So it seems it is not yet time to declare victory.

Look at it this way.  I am trying to let people know what the results of their mating choices are likely to be in the long run.  That is called education.  Anybody who tries to stop me and anybody whose business it is who will not lend a hand is doing something else.  They are keeping people in ignorance.  That is coercion. 

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